CARSON, Calif. — Zlatan Ibrahimovic didn’t shock anyone when he went 90 minutes in the LA Galaxy 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers (0-3-1) on Sunday night at Dignity Health Sports Park.
The six-foot-five Swede, while constantly blanketed by a five-man back line and a stingy midfield, found little space for most of the game as the Timbers were determined to keep him from scoring. But some badly timed challenges made sure the Galaxy would still find a way into the net.
Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto had his healthiest lineup to date as both Romain Alessandrini and Ibrahimovic returned from injuries sustained in the season-opening win over the Chicago Fire on March 2.
Ibrahimovic started in his customary no. 9
And while the Galaxy (3-1-0) only managed two shots on goal — with both of those shots coming from Ibrahimovic’s penalty kicks in the 33′ and 65-minutes — the Galaxy created a number of scoring chances that just couldn’t find a home.
Ibrahimovic had the moment of the match when a crossed ball from right back Rolf Feltscher was back-heel-karate-kicked off the left post. T
The half wouldn’t end kindly for the Galaxy despite a rather persistent attack. Portland would claw one back in the 44-minute when Diego Valeri combined with David Guzmán inside the box on a borderline offside call. The flag stayed down and Guzman fired across the box to a wide-open Jeremy Ebobisse who finished easily past David Bingham.
The score would remain level until the 65-minute when Ibrahimovic would dribble into the box, shedding a few Timber’s defenders in passing, before being run into by goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. Attinella clipped Ibrahimovic’s heels after the ball had squirted away.
Ibrahimovic’s finish, on his second penalty of the night, was straight down the middle with some flair and put a check mark on his third goal of the season after scoring his second of the season on the first penalty kick in this game.
But it was still up to Jorgen Skjelvik to save the game in stoppage time after Daniel Steres and Diego Polenta collided trying to stop a promising Portland attack. With Lucas Melano running in toward Bingham unmolested, and seemingly within striking distance of a tie game, Skjelvik raced back and cleaned the ball away from Melano’s feet and out of danger.
The Galaxy’s midfield was the real star of the show as they pressured Portland into many passing mistakes and limited Valeri’s contributions on the field. Corona and dos Santos were solid, Lletget timely in his tackles and the entire effort from defense up to the finishing on attack was crisp at times and confusing at others.
But the Galaxy limited Portland to just four first-half shots on goal and none in the second half, while Portland didn’t allow the Galaxy a shot on goal from the run of play throughout the entire game.
But Ibrahimovic wasn’t concerned with their lack of finishing.
“We created a lot of chances, but don’t forget we were playing against a good team,” he said to reporters after the game. “They (Portland) were in the final last year. And they were playing with five behind. So it’s not easy to play against that team, and a good team, and that has five behind.
“I was surrounded by three guys all the time,” he continued. “And every time I got the ball they tried to close me down. And we created a lot of chances. I hit the post in the first half, we had some shots from outside the box and I think possession — we had more possessions than them. And we had crazy support from the stands that gave us even more motivation and power.”
The Galaxy, remained positive, however. With Schelotto making sure to nail home that point in his
“I think, sometimes during the game, we managed the ball, we managed the game…,” Schelotto said. “But we have to focus on the positivity. They had the goal and some shots from outside the box and nothing more. They take care about us, they played really good defense, and sometimes you can’t get the space.”
For the Galaxy, they got their most powerful lineup back on the field against a dangerous — if underperforming — Western Conference opponent. The win propelling the club to fifth in the conference just one point out of second place, and only four points behind league-leading LAFC.
The only thing that was really missing on the night was an Ibrahimovic hattrick. Something that Skjelvik might regret after his cross in the 89-minute awkwardly found Ibrahimovic in space. But the ball couldn’t be tamed, and Ibrahimovic was left humorously annoyed, signaling for the ball to be played on the ground.
“I should have scored,” Ibrahimovic said of the opportunity. “I promised my son three goals, and because of a bad pass, Jorgen (Skjelvik) has to pay my son.”
The Galaxy will train during a short week as they jet off to Vancouver on Thursday, likely with Ibrahimovic in tow, for a Friday night matchup with the Whitecaps at BC Place (SpectrumSN; 7 p.m.). How recovered Ibrahimovic, and the rest of the squad will be, however, will be left up to next week’s training sessions.